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Ballin' on a Budget: Street Fair Edition

Nothing says summer in NYC like a street fair. Part block party, part food fest and part shopping haven, street fairs are everything I love, all in one place.

Every year, the Brooklyn Academy of Music has a three-day street fair celebrating Dance Africa—a celebration of Africa's rich culture and it’s diaspora in Brooklyn. This means all my Memorial Day weekends are kicked off with a dance performance of epic proportions (along with an annual vow—thus far unfulfilled—to take some African dance classes) then three days straight of shopping, eating and people watching.

I’ve been going to this fair for nearly a decade, and only just came to realize that some of my most commented on pieces of clothing come from its vendors. The best part? All the items are under $20. Not only are they ballin’ on a budget worthy, but the vendors are all small producers, either making items themselves here in Brooklyn by hand, or importing goods handcrafted in countries such as Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria. One pair of earrings I bought years ago for $5 still continue to garner the “Where did you get those?” question.

Street fairs are awesome, because for a fraction of the price of a store, vendors can have their very own pop-up shop of sorts. I love being able to meet designers, and really get to know why they’re creating what they’re creating. And the type of people that are drawn to the good ones always make for excellent people watching. Street style and personal flair are in abundance!

Of course, loads of street fairs in the city all have the same disposable crap, like weathered looking cosmetics, lots of batteries and funnel cake (you can’t be mad at the funnel cake, though!) However, I’ve been to many an excellent street fair that support art and creativity, not to mention good deals.

This time around, I went straight to my earring lady (yes, I have been going to it so long that I have a lady) and immediately picked out these leather earrings (#2). They’re kind of major but I think I can make them work, especially for $10. While I was paying, I kept eying this cuff (#3). It was talking to me. There was a basketful of them, but this one kept looking at me. I'm a sucker for oversized, bright jewelry. It can make a T-shirt and jeans suddenly look like an Outfit (capital O necessary). That, and the Trinidadian in me loves some flash.

The next day, I went back and asked the price. (I have a rule. If you’re still thinking about it the next day it needs to be yours.) $5? Um, yeah. Money passed hands and said cuff has been living on my wrist ever since.

I love my earring (and now cuff) lady because she saw the (obnoxiously large brass) earrings I had on, and said “you bought those from me a long time ago.” I grinned. That’s one of the great things about going to someone small and local—they remember you and their creations. “Thank you,” she said genuinely, “for the love.”

Later, I strolled by a stall that had these little woven purses (#1). They were the perfect size for a summer night out—enough for your phone, your cards, your cash, lipstick and keys. Perfect with a fun summer dress. It took me forever to pick one, and to be honest I debated going back to get another. They were $10, and so well made (in Kenya).

Memorial Day 2012, as we’ll recall in Brooklyn, was a steamy one. Even just sitting was a little toasty (which I happen to love), so I also bought a $5 fan made in Ghana (#4). With just a slight flick of the wrist, it sends a gust of wind your way. And when not in use, it looks pretty awesome on my wall.

This particular street fair, of course, is dedicated to African and African-inspired wares and art. Which works with the whole “tribal” trend thing. But all street fairs are different. Some may be celebrating culture, some may be celebrating a community and some may be celebrating an event.

Whatever it is, it’s always worth checking out. Especially if you can score four gorgeous items for under $30. Total.

Image From Left:

1. Woven purse made in Kenya, $10
2. Leather earrings, $10
3. Woven cuff, $5
4. Woven fan made in Ghana, $5

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ballin on a budget